After 25 Years, a Course Correction on Charter Schools?
On June 4, 1991, Minnesota passed the nation’s first charter school law, leading to the opening of City Academy in St. Paul one year later. Within a decade, more than 40 states would have their own laws authorizing charters to set up shop in school districts. And now, 25 years later, 7 percent of all U.S. students – almost 3 million total – are now attending charter schools.
But will new calls for greater accountability steer us away from the unfettered expansion of the last 25 years, or will charter schools continue to grab larger chunks of market share in school districts across the country? That was one of the questions adressed at a recent panel discussion held at the Center for American Progress (CAP)to mark the 25th anniversary of Minnesota’s landmark charter school law.
Casey began by reminding the audience that the original vision for charter schools – first articulated by Albert Shanker in the late 1980s – is now more or less non-existent in the sector today. The two pillars of that vision were, one, charters should be a place for innovation that could be shared with traditional public schools, and, secondly, teachers, parents and community members would be empowered to try out new ideas and actually play an active role in school decisionmaking.
“But 25 years later, the reality is that this has happened in only a minority of charter schools,” Casey said. “Most use a very traditional curriculum, a very traditional pedagogy, rely upon stringent discipline policies. And most charters don’t have avenues for parent voice. Being a “consumer” is not real voice. And there are no avenues for teacher voice either.”
The successful charter schools that are innovative and do empower educators and parents “represent the exception, not the rule,” he added.
David Osborne, a longtime charter school advocate, disagreed with Casey’s assessment and held up KIPP schools – the leader of the “No Excuses” movement – as models of innovation. As an example, Osbourne pointed to the practice of After 25 Years, a Course Correction on Charter Schools?: